Recently, several Major League Baseball teams announced that they would extend how long they sold alcohol in response to changes that have shortened the average time it takes to finish a game.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers are among the teams who have announced that they will sell alcohol beyond the seventh inning.
Traditionally, teams declared last call on all alcohol sales after the seventh inning. The rationale for stopping beer sales in the seventh inning was to allow fans two innings to “sober up” before they headed to their cars after the game.
However, the newly introduced pitch clock has dropped the average time of games by about 30 minutes to start the season leading to scenarios where the seventh inning is arriving earlier than it used to in many cases.
As a result, there is less time for teams to sell alcohol.
I never held any grand illusion that stopping beer sales in the seventh inning meant that there would be a decrease in the number of drunk fans leaving a Ballpark.
A 2011 study by the University of Minnesota determined that one in every 12 fans leaving a sporting event are above the legal limit when it comes to alcohol. That means in a stadium holding 40,000 people, 3,200 fans will likely be legally impaired by the time they leave.
To be fair, I know that most attendees of sporting events drink responsibly and use designated drivers. In fact, the above statistic breaks down to about eight percent of the total attendees. So, I am not painting all fans who drink with the same broad Clydesdale hair brush.
However, it only takes one of those individuals to make a bad decision and cost someone their life.
I often left Ballparks at the seventh inning stretch to ensure that I got ahead of the crowds leaving after the ninth inning.
Whether leaving early actually increased my odds of avoiding an encounter with a drunk driver or not, the practice usually made me feel like it did.
The entire premise of MLB teams ending beer sales in the seventh inning to give fans time to sober up falls flatter than a dropped keg when faced with the new approach of extending beer sales into later innings to allow teams to maintain their revenue streams.
Make no mistake, sporting events generate thousands of dollars of revenue from alcohol sales every game.
An example of how much revenue can be found in the trend of beer snakes. For those who may be unaware of what a beer snake is, it is comprised of empty beer cups extending from the bottom of a stadium section to the top. One of the teams that fully embraces the beer snake is the D.C. Defenders of the XFL.
For the sake of some quick journalist math, let us assume that with about two cups per inch, a hundred-foot beer snake would be comprised of around 2,400 cups.
Now, let us say that each of those 2,400 beer cups in the beer snake cost $12 when they were full.
That makes the cost of the beer snake to be $28,800 from head to tail.
Once we realize that not every beer sold in a stadium or ballpark becomes part of the snake, we are talking about some serious money.
The Sporting News took the alcohol sales math further and estimated that MLB teams could make up to an average of $8 million on beer sales a season for their 81 home games. Multiply that by 30 teams and the amount of money teams are heading to the mountain with expands to a whopping $240 million for the league per year.
Considering a 31 minute shorter game time thanks to the tinkering MLB did for the 2023 season, and the 30 teams could lose a little under $35 million in beer sales in total over the course of a season.
Proponents of extending the alcohol sales window will likely try to paint a human element on the issue by saying that longer sales mean that the vendors who provide alcohol to thirsty fans will not miss out on as many tips.
To that I say, many of the vendors at the games I have attended usually park blocks away from the Ballpark. By extending alcohol sales, vendors will now be faced with the prospect of having to walk further past more buzzed and/or drunk drivers leaving.
To be clear, I am not against responsible alcohol consumption inside Ballparks, or anywhere else for that matter.
What I am against, is when decisions that have real impacts on innocent people are made solely on a financial profit basis as appears to be the case with the MLB teams extending their alcohol sales.
The optics of extending beer sales beyond the seventh inning is profit over safety no matter how many team spokespeople try to spin it as a catering to fans approach.
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Matt Strahm weighed in on the issue of longer beer sales during an appearance on the Baseball Isn’t Boring podcast and provided some sobering insight.
“The reason we stopped it in the seventh before was to give our fans time to sober up and drive home safe, correct?” Strahm said. “So now with a faster pace game, and me just being a man of common sense, if the game is going to finish quicker, would we not move the beer sales back to the sixth inning to give our fans time to sober up and drive home?”
It used to be that common sense would say that the best approach was to be proactive and try to avoid a situation from happening versus reacting to it after the fact.
A bartender who overserves a patron is held responsible if that patron gets in a car and kills someone. It will only take one incident of a fan leaving a Ballpark and killing someone for the beer sales issue to be placed back on tap.
Someone who is going to overindulge at the Ballpark is going to do that whether alcohol sales end in the seventh inning or the ninth inning. So, at the end if the day, the percentage of drunk and unruly fans will likely not increase if teams continue to leave the bar open longer.
What will change is any goodwill MLB teams got by saying that they were halting beer sales early to allow fans time to sober up before hitting the road.
Those MLB teams don’t get to have it both ways. The optics are either, fan safety or profits.
With the rise in sports leagues cozying up to Sportsbooks, it is fair to say that MLB teams are gambling that extending beer sales closer to the time that fans leave will not lead to catastrophic events like drunk driving crashes, or fans falling over a railing in the Ballpark.
I certainly hope they are right and that the cash grab of later alcohol sales does not increase the occurrence of fan death and injury.
Then again, every gambler runs out of luck eventually.
Now if you’ll excuse me, doing all of this math has made me feel like I need to rest for a bit.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson